I think I speak safely for guys when I say there comes a time, roughly around the end of our first decade, when we realize that girls are enchantingly, mesmerizingly different.
That moment came for me in the late 1960s when I encountered Doris Day.
The introduction came courtesy of “On Moonlight Bay,” a 1951 musical comedy set in 1910 in which, despite being almost 30 years old, Doris effectively played a young tomboy who figures she had better pretty herself up if she hoped to catch the attention of the boy next door, a very eligible Gordon MacRae. This she does, thus raising the Charmometer from Defcon 2, achieved even as a tomboy, to a nuclear-level Defcon 1. Soon after this I caught “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” which was the 1953 sequel to “Moonlight Bay,” whereupon (ah, fickle heart!) I gave the Order of the Boot to Judy Garland, who had captured me with 1944’s “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
By the time she cast her spell over me, Doris was already comfortably past her girl-next-door stage and well into her flirty romantic comedy phase with various leading men, chief among whom of course was Rock Hudson. It took me some years to notice this transition, my adolescent years intruding more pressing concerns such as exams, a dawning political awareness and, being as I did my growing up in Great Britain, soccer. Here and there I tripped across a Doris Day flick — “Calamity Jane,” for example, a display of comedy, music and dance that forever established this queen of the silver screen as much more than an epically pretty face equipped with a central casting smile.
In later years I delighted anew at her combination of sunny femininity and fierce independence that characterized such hilarities as “Pillow Talk” (1959) and, especially, “Send Me No Flowers” (1964). Nor would I sell her acting ability short. Doris Day surmounted her light comedy persona to become an actress of passion and depth in such films as Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” (1956) and the much underrated “Julie,” (1956) to name just two.
I was apprehensively aware of Doris Day’s march through her nineties and so my heart sank the morning of May 13 when, attempting to make myself presentable to the world, the radio announced to the telltale strains of “Que Sera Sera” that a Hollywood icon had died at the age of 97. It was inevitable, of course, but that did not stop me from tearing up.
The world soon pointed out that Doris Day’s private life was difficult, full of bad husbands and financial distress. But it was also filled with people who adored her, not least of whom the directors and actors who loved and admired this glittering star who was much more likely to bring a plate of cookies to a set than a haughty attitude.
I have often implored women, as they assume equal station in the corridors of power, not to suppress their precious femininity. It is there for a reason. Humanity needs it. There can be no proper humanity without it.
Doris Day radiated femininity, and I will always love her for that.
May she rest in peace, on Moonlight Bay.
By the light of the silvery moon.